AL QA'IM, Iraq --
The transformation that has taken place in Al-Qa’im, Iraq, is a testament to those who have observed both struggle and success.
As Staff Sgt. Paul Riley nears the end of his second deployment here with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5, he says he has witnessed a world of change in an area once ravaged by warfare.
Riley, platoon commander for the battalion commander’s jump platoon, first arrived to Al-Qa’im in February 2005 where he was stationed at Camp Gannon, near the Syrian border in Husaybah, Iraq.
“It was completely different,” said Riley, 30, a native of Norwood, Pa. “We took indirect fire pretty much everyday for the better part of seven months. You had to wear flak and Kevlar if you were going to the chow hall.”
Last year, the refurbished port-of-entry facility was re-opened on the Iraqi-Syrian border in Husaybah, and the area has flourished due to increased trade and a decline in insurgent activity. Some Marines, like Riley, remember three years ago when the port-of-entry and Camp Gannon were attacked by two vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices.
“Once the (vehicle-borne IEDs) went off, a lot of the buildings in the area were leveled due to the explosion,” said Riley.
Today, Husaybah appears to be a different city since that attack three years ago. Iraqi citizens are starting to accept the fact that Coalition forces are here to help them, and that partnership has been the backbone in rebuilding the area.
“When we got back here, people in Husaybah were just walking by and waving at us,” said Riley. “It’s really amazing to see the change in just a little over a two-year time frame.”
With a less kinetic environment during his current deployment, Riley has been able to pursue several personal goals that were not as obtainable in the past.
“My first time here you could run, but you had to run while wearing your flak and Kevlar and carrying your rifle,” said Riley. “I didn’t want to chance running around and taking small arms fire or a mortar round. Needless to say we didn’t run much.”
Riley has been able to fit in a physical training schedule between patrols, and has lost nearly 50 pounds throughout the deployment.
“With the change in atmosphere now, you definitely get a chance to get out and (exercise) more,” said Riley.
Though Riley has been through both struggle and success throughout his Marine Corps career, he said his choice to recently re-enlist was an easy one for him.
“I’ve already been in for over 11 years, so I was going to re-enlist anyway,” said Riley. “I’d say it was the bonus, but I’ve re-enlisted other times without one. As long as the Marine Corps lets me, I’ll stick around.”
Taking part in the effort to transform Al-Qa’im into what it is today has played a significant role in Riley’s Marine Corps career.
“You would never have thought it would be like it is now back in 2005,” said Riley. “We took part in this, so you’ve got to feel good about seeing the change that has come.”